Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Feeling Thirsky?

If you're a fan of Downton Abbey, you've heard Thirsk mentioned often.  The setting for the show is near Thirsk and York...but the actual castle where they film is near London (much further south).  I love hearing them mention the Yorkshire names, now that I'm familiar with the actual places.

Thirsk has been near and dear to my heart for decades now.  When I was a teenager, I fell in love with Yorkshire and the fictional Darrowby through the books of James Herriot.  Later, the BBC series "All Creatures Great and Small" brought it all to life.  I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian...until I took high school Biology and figured out that wasn't exactly my cup of tea.

Leave it to me again to not do the typical tourist traps.  I go to England and tops on my list is the James Herriot Museum, in real-life Thirsk, where it all really happened.  Yes, Herriot was a real vet named Alf Wight, who lived and worked in a real town (Thirsk), with real colleagues and farmers and animals and real adventures.

Thirsk is a little town.  Here's a contrast.  First, one of the many train platforms at York:

And now, one of two platforms at Thirsk:

The train trip was wonderful, passing such picturesque Yorkshire farms along the way.  The fields were green and long.  As a Herriot reader, you could imagine all the stories taking place there, just as he described them.

Once we left the train depot, we had a long walk into town.  We passed fields where people were playing with their dogs.  We passed the race track, which you could tell was a big event on race day.  And we also passed this sight:

Sheep.  Amid the rows of houses, sheep in a field.  I found it so lovely and peaceful, and completely fitting for what I imagined from the stories.  Certainly, the town had changed vastly since the stories I'd heard (which began in pre-WWII Yorkshire), but here was this little holdout.

As we moved deeper into the center of town, the buildings got older and the street got narrower:

Many of the sidewalks were still made of cobblestones. As we followed the signs, I couldn't help but think, "This is where it all happened.  These are the streets he traveled, where he met those people we all came to love."  Then, we rounded a corner, and I saw the red door.


In the books, it was known as Skeldale House.  Where James arrived to begin work with Siegried Farnon.  Where he lived in the top floor apartment with his new bride, Helen.  Where his name was ceremoniously added to the front door, to show he had arrived as a partner in the little country practice.  

In real life, it was Alf Wight who came to work for Donald Sinclair.  And their names are still in place, at the front door.

You can also see the distinctive blue plaque now, given by the British government to denote a place of historical value.

(You can also see where I most unfortunately but off the picture!  The sign doesn't really say, "Please Leave."  It actually says, "Please Leave Clear."  Whoops!  I probably laughed harder than I should at that!)

And here are pictures of them both, from the hallway of the house:

Donald Sinclair
Alf Wight

I cannot begin to describe how excited I was to be there.  To actually be THERE.  To be in his footsteps, among the stories, where it really happened.  After so many years of looking at pictures and imagining and dream, I was standing in the doorway of that red door.

"Are you a fan of the books?" said the little old woman who took our tickets.  I nodded enthusiastically.  BB explained that he hadn't read them, but that I was very much a fan of the books and the series.  She directed us where to start our tour, and I walked into the heart of it all.

The living room of the house.  The window looks out on a lovely garden, but my eye went immediately to the tankard on the mantel.  This was their informal till.  The place where monies were received and stashed, and petty cash was funded.  Much to the consternation of bookkeepers!

So much life happened here.  So much that would delight generations to come.

The tour continued....

The dispensary

The kitchen

 Mind you, these are only a few pictures from the home.  We went through several rooms and even a re-creation of a WWII bomb shelter in the basement.  They also had several displays related to the writing of the books and the production of the television show (which was not actually filmed here).

Including this treasure:

Alf Wight's typewriter, on which all the glorious stories were written.

To delight the television fans, they did have one artifact.  The car that was used in the series, and driven by the major characters (including Peter Davison, who went on to fame as the 5th Doctor in Doctor Who):

Once we had thoroughly explored the museum, we wandered the street to the center square of the town:

My head was in the clouds.  I was in "Darrowby."  I had seen the James Herriot Museum.  I hardly wanted to leave, but the time was coming for the train.  We needed to find our way back.  I expressed to BB how much I loved the little town and would like to get to know it better.

"Maybe someday," he said. "We could have a little summer home here."

I kissed him, and we held hands as we walked.  I couldn't have smiled more if I tried.

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